When you consider the infinity of possibilities a driver works with every time he's out on track, it's not all that surprising that accidents like Felipe Massa's occur every now and again.
It's also natural that people should be trying to find links between this accident and Henry Surtees' in the F2 race just a few days earlier. Both, after all, were about projectiles hitting a driver in the head. But there are no links, it's just the cruelty of randomness, one of the key features of the universe, probably even how it was created.
What was the link between the five serious accidents during the Imola 1994 weekend? Yes, there were lessons to be learned, but the only loose causal link was that between the startline accident and that of Ayrton Senna; there was no other reason why all those incidents picked that particular time and place to happen. A full appreciation of randomness means it would be bizarre if such clumps did not occasionally occur.
Consider the extra special element of randomness of Massa's accident: that the missile wasn't just any old piece of debris, but a spring. Consider two of the key properties of a spring: a) it bounces, b) it's unpredictable directionally when let loose. Had it been just a piece of metal, Barrichello was far enough ahead - around four seconds - that it would have not have still been flying through the air at around 100mph when Massa arrived at 162mph.
It was still flying for precisely the reason it was a spring. A marshal at the scene reported that he'd watched the object on a trajectory to bounce off to the grass at the side of the track but on its final fateful bounce it suddenly veered the other way - because it was a spring.
No one in the paddock, with a combined experience of hundreds, maybe thousands, of motor racing years, could ever recall a spring bouncing down a track.
Now think about the ironic possibility that the mandatory built-up cockpit and padding introduced to protect the driver in an impact - and which has undoubtedly already saved lives - on this occasion may have actually funnelled the spring towards Massa's helmet after it hit the cockpit. Had it not been there, the spring may have passed by after striking the cockpit.
Drastically unlucky though Massa was, he was also incredibly fortunate in others - that the spring didn't hit a centimetre further down and into his eye. He was unconscious immediately and at that moment his feet resting on both pedals. The pressure on the brake pedal was only around 10 bar (a normal hard brake would be in three figures) and he was only on around 80 per cent throttle. When the software cut the engine because the throttle opening was too much for the combination of braking and high gear, it allowed the engine braking to contribute to the wheel braking. This and the long run towards the barriers shed precisely 100mph. He hit them at 62mph.
The 'what ifs' inevitably present themselves here. What if he'd gone slightly slower on his out-lap - he wouldn't have been in that place at the fateful time; what if he'd had a longer/shorter conversation in the garage with his engineer; what if the traffic had fallen differently? None of them have any meaning. What if he'd never moved to Italy from Brazil? It's an infinite list.
There is no meaning to why it happened the way it did, just as with the tragic case of Surtees. Which is the cruel part. But there are always lessons to be learned.
For example, Massa's life was probably saved by the performance of his carbon/Kevlar composite helmet, introduced as compulsory in F1 in 2004. This programme, initiated by the FIA, was instigated in 1994 as a direct consequence of the circumstances of Senna's death. Such is the way randomness helps progress.
To continue reading this feature, join Autosport Plus today.
Are you an Autosport magazine subscriber? Activate your online account
- Your Autosport Plus membership includes:
- Unlimited access to Autosport's news - no monthly cap.
- Read the best motorsport features, analysis and opinion.
- Explore Forix, our comprehensive motorsport stats database.
- Choose from a monthly or yearly membership.